From conception/launching of his 5-point (SMART) agenda at the administration’s inception, right through the Stronger Delta mantra to instructions on the present COVID-19 pandemic lock down of Delta State – spanning space of 5 years – the riverine areas hardly occupy the consciousness of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa when evolving development policies, or so it seems. The interests of the communities appear to spring up as an after-thought which is sad, to say the least.
Before buttressing this disturbing trend, it is imperative to situate our concerns at BIGPEN which have necessitated this comment. The riverine areas, largely oil bearing communities, provide the largest chunk of the revenue for development of the state. Rather than request that the revenue be for their sole development, they have simply begged over time that the nation and state remembers them in development initiatives and demonstrations. We think that a balance that includes adequately developing the oil bearing riverine communities would guarantee peace for the benefit of the entire state and indeed the nation.
Instead of holding the foregoing mindset, Governor Okowa has consistently shown in his policies that he never elected to develop the riverine areas, the cash cow of the state. He factors the riverine areas into his calculations, only to the extent that he has to fleece them to largely advance his future political ambitions.
We note that Okowa’s 5-point (SMART) agenda touched on “urban renewal”, not rural or riverine transformation or integration. His policies border on rural areas only to the extent that such concerns would aid urban renewal permutations. Accordingly, Entreprenuerial/Agricultural programmes beneficiaries are mainly upland natives, scarcely riverine areas where peace is preached to raise the revenue to foot development projects elsewhere in the state.
While the commendable Asaba Capital Territory Development Agency was planned even before he ascended the throne as shown in the first week timing/sending of the bill to the State House of Assembly, it took agitations before the Warri and Environs Development Agency bill was sent. Shouldn’t we let alone the riverine Coastal Areas Development Agency Bill, a private initiative, which may not sail through as it didn’t belong in Okowa’s original agenda? We also note that while the urban areas enjoy Delta State-aided transport services, the riverine areas reel under the weight of shylock-price private transport systems.
It should border a responsible government that the entire stretch of the revenue-generating riverine areas has just one State-owned tertiary institution–Delta State School of Marine Technology, Burutu, while the area provides the revenue that sustains universities and other tertiary schools in the state. We thought that Governor Okowa would quickly activate the abandoned state-approved Polytechnics in Bomadi and Abigborodo, after ascertaining their viability.
We recall that early in the Okowa administration, a courtesy call on him by the Ijaw nation led by Senator James Manager appealed to Governor Okowa to be fairer in reciprocating the huge, game-changer votes of the riverine local government areas where Ijaws and Itsekiri amongst others, are found in the state. Five (5) years down the road, the advice of Senator Manager who he described as “the indigene of the Senate” has paled into insignificance! Perhaps, Okowa thinks that his paltry development efforts of the Ijaw part of his deputy, Deacon Kingsley Burutu Otuaro, are sufficient for the entire riverine areas! Given this lacklustre devotion to the revenue-spinning riverine communities, one doubts an Okowa-tenure completion and inauguration of the Ayakoromor Bridge project, which, like the Bomadi Bridge project under the Ibori administration, would further integrate the riverine areas to the hinterland of the state.
Governor Okowa’s latest mental neglect of the riverine areas is found in his COVID-19 pandemic lock down instructions. While “vehicles carrying food items” were mentioned as exempted from security harassment, the lack of clarity has left “boats carrying food items and occupants” at the mercy of security agents who have had to “block” them because boats were not mentioned in Okowa’s directions exempting food carriers, with resultant hunger in the riverine areas. With the signature neglect, it will not surprise us if the Governor and Chairman of COVID-19 Taskforce Committee, Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa forgets the riverine areas in the beneficiaries of the emerging food bank from donations from various quarters to cushion effects of the Corona Virus lock down.
While BIGPEN deprecates this mental neglect of the riverine areas in policy formulation and directives of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, the situation is also a sad commentary on the patriotism of the representatives in government from the area, who have not taken up the challenge on the Governor. In any case, Okowa’s policies are, so far, bereft of true concerns/interest of the oil producing riverine areas, which remain the cash cow of Delta State. A change of heart and mind from Governor Okowa, we insist, benefits peace and progress of not just Delta State but the entire nation.